Assessment Centres, a Survival Guide Part 1

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Assessment Centres, a Survival Guide Part 1

A client used a word this week that in my opinion is not used enough: “Yikes”! What a great word.  I need to start reading the Beano again.

The word was used because they had been invited to an Assessment Centre and I think that it is safe to say that they were somewhat alarmed at the prospect. Should they be alarmed?  No.  It should be more “Woo-hoo!” than “Yikes!".

What is an Assessment Centre?

They vary from employer to employer but the general idea is that they will create an environment where you are given the opportunity to demonstrate the skills and attitudes that they require for their workplace.  The military probably came up with the idea first, but in most cases you will not be presented with 2 barrels, a plank and a river to cross.  They’ll do that to you when you are a senior executive.  That’s called “team building”.

Assessment Centres are most commonly used for graduate and entry level through to junior management roles;  basically where the company is confident that you won’t mind making an idiot of yourself.   Assessment Centres are also a great day out of the office for HR Managers.

They may be used as stage 2 of a recruitment process. For example Stage 1: a basic interview, perhaps a telephone interview;  Stage 2: the assessment centre and Stage 3: a final interview.  If the company is organised however they will do the final interview as part of the Assessment centre.

If you have been invited to an Assessment Centre it is a cause for celebration.  You are through the first sift and as out American cousins say, you “have skin in the game”.  I don’t know what that means either, but I would loosely translate it as meaning you are in with a chance!

What happens at an Assessment Centre? I’ll talk about this in more detail in another post, but common elements of an Assessment Centre are:

  • Group Exercises
  • In-tray exercises
  • Psychometric tests
  • Presentations
  • Role Plays
  • Case Studies
  • Written Exercises
  • Interviews
  • People with clip boards (or iPads if the budget stretches) watching your every move

I’ll bet you are excited already!

How do I prepare? The very first time I was invited to an assessment centre I bought 2 books on how to do IQ tests.  That was in the early 80s when intelligent people thought that IQ actually mattered.  In our more enlightened days we realise that it does not and is in fact something that unattractive but clever people invented to make themselves feel superior to the hot looking but slightly stupid people who got all the girls/boys. I should add that everyone who reads my BLOG is hot AND clever.

The first thing to do is to read the joining instructions.  If they have asked you to do some pre-assessment work, like a presentation, make sure you allow the time to do it and do it well.  It is also important to allow the time to rehearse.  If you have a friend use them as an audience, if you do not have one to hand present to the mirror.  Rehearse all of the elements, including the use of IT if that’s part of it and of course your practise your timings. Make sure that you do your homework on the company and the job.  Review your CV and think about the questions they might ask you.  Use the tips in my other BLOGS about interview preparation.  This advice is just as valid when it comes to Assessment Centre preparation. Make sure that you know where you are going, how you are going to get there and how long it will take.  Write down on a piece of paper the names of anyone from the company you know will be there. The more preparation you do, the more relaxed you will be on the day.

On the day

Here are the two most important things I have to say about Assessment Centres.  If you remember nothing else, please remember these.

1. Be yourself Be authentic, no play acting, don’t pretend to be the person you think they are looking for. You are good enough to have been invited, you are good enough to be hired.  If you are trying to be someone you are not it will be spotted and you will be ruled out.  If you are really unlucky they will fall for it, hire you and it will be a disastrous move both for you and for them.

2. Participate To quote that sage of our times Dale Winton: “you’ve got to be in it to win it”! Wise words, indeed. There you are in the Assessment Centre. You are sat round a table with a bunch of strangers discussing who should be thrown out of the ballon first, Madonna or Lady Gaga (obvious answer) and there is one bloke who has decided to be “the leader”, which loosely translated means that he won’t shut up and you are thinking that if you interrupt you will be marked down by the people with clipboards watching you but equally if you don’t say something they’ll mark you down and then again if you say something wrong they will mark you down. STOP!  Listen to Dale.  You need to give them something to assess.  Better to speak and come across as a bit brash or a bit stupid than be the person about whom they say at the post Assessment Centre debrief: “which one was she? Oh, the one who didn’t say anything in the group discussion."

I recommend that you approach an Assessment Centre like it’s a game.  It’s sport.  And we take our sport seriously in this country.  Prepare well, adopt an attitude of positive self-expectancy and go for it. Next time I’ll delve into some of those exercises I listed above in more detail.

If you like my advice on writing CVs with impact, Interview Technique, Linkedin and Job Hunting please sign up for BLOG updates, and please tell your friends. If you don’t like my advice – please keep it to yourself.  :-)



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